‘You don’t need to be afraid of me,’ Journey client says

At  age 14 Kristen started battling her diagnosis of depression. By her 20s, she was re-diagnosed with bi-polar II with anxiety. Today, she lives through physical health problems – fibromyalgia– that affect her mental state.

Yet this fall, Kristen will be pursuing a dual master’s degree in art therapy and counseling from Adler University in Chicago.

The 37-year-old has been on a long and winding road in her journey to recovery.

“The medications I was taking affected me mentally in ways I wouldn’t imagine. I started hallucinating and that’s when things went downhill,” Kristen says. “I couldn’t work so I had to move home. It was horrifying. I hit rock bottom and started hurting myself.”

Without insurance, she couldn’t get medications but eventually found her way to Journey’s Bayside Care Center, where she stayed for two weeks.

“The first couple of days were super scary. I was emotionally unstable and experienced auditory hallucinations that were negative,” Kristen says. “I was a walking zombie, shuffling my feet because of all the medication I was on.

I resisted staff help, but after 48 hours I was able to go outside. I started meeting and talking to people and participating in activities during the day. Staff helped me complete my disability paperwork for fibromyalgia.”

Today, Kristen is a caregiver for the elderly, and goes to the UW Pain Management Clinic to help her with her chronic pain.

She calls Saima Chauhan, a Journey therapist, her biggest cheerleader.

“Saima has been a godsend,” Kristen says. “I tend to work well with people who are straightforward. Saima is both sympathetic and nurturing, yet she is a straight shooter. She reminds me of how far I’ve come.”

Kristen is acutely aware of the stigma of living with mental illness. “I lost friends after I attempted suicide,” she says. “Some people used the fact that I am bi-polar II against me. I’ve lost relationships over my illness. The amount of stigma we face is incredible. I want to tell the world that you don’t need to be scared of me. I’m not going to harm you. My diagnosis doesn’t define me.”